Bill C-35 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences)
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.
Vic Toews Conservative
(This bill did not become law.)
- March 27, 2007 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to a legislative committee.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 26th, 2007 / 12:55 p.m.
Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the bill that amends the Criminal Code and makes consequential amendments to other acts. As you know, I come from a region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, where the crime rate is very low. Still, I want to take part in today's debate to raise an issue that is a major source of concern for people in my region and in my riding.
It goes without saying that the Bloc Québécois worked actively and positively in committee to improve some of the provisions of Bill C-2. Incidentally, I want to congratulate in particular the hon. member for Hochelaga, who did a great job at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and also the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, for her contribution.
Based on what we heard from a large number of witnesses, it is obvious that many Quebeckers and Canadians want some changes to the current justice model.
The committee's consultation process and the message conveyed by our fellow citizens showed two things. First, a large part of the population is concerned about the current justice system and, second, it does not want an American type of justice system.
We believe that the American justice system has produced disastrous results. The Bloc Québécois deemed appropriate to propose a series of amendments to Bill C-2. Unfortunately, the Conservative government kept none of the six amendments that we proposed, even though some of them enjoyed the unanimous support of the public security ministers in Quebec and in the provinces. It is unfortunate that the Conservative government does not take into consideration the fact that this is a minority government.
I would like to briefly mention the six amendments that reflect Quebeckers' values. In my region, the Minister of Labour, who represents the riding next to mine, said that Bill C-2 reflects the public's will. The Minister of Labour should have said, rather, that Bill C-2 reflects the ideology of the minority Conservative government. That is what he should have said first and foremost.
The Bloc suggested, therefore, that parole after one-sixth of the sentence has been served should be abolished. We should also put an end to virtually automatic statutory release after an inmate has served two-thirds of his sentence. The Bloc proposed another amendment as well to the effect that there should be a formal evaluation by a professional of an inmate’s overall risk of re-offending.
In addition, the Bloc suggested that onus of proof should be reversed in the case of criminals found guilty of the offences of loan-sharking, procuring, robbery, fraud over $5,000 and counterfeiting in order to facilitate the seizure of assets that are the product of crime.
We also said that the police needed better tools to deal with the problem of street gangs, especially longer warrants for investigations carried out by means of tailing with a GPS.
It should be against the law to wear any symbol, sign or other mark identifying the wearer as a member of a criminal organization that has been recognized as such by the courts.
Finally, we should eliminate the rule that the time spent in pretrial detention counts double when sentences are determined. Sentences should be deemed to have started on the first day of detention, rather than when sentences are passed.
The minister labour thinks that Canadians want new justice legislation. I agree with him to the extent that the Bloc supports the principle of these changes. This does not mean, however, that Quebeckers and Canadians agree with everything in Bill C-2. When bills are introduced, some changes can be made without changing them completely. We need to adapt to the realities of life in Quebec and Canada.
As I said, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-2 in principle and takes crime very seriously. However, when five bills are amalgamated into one, it is only to be expected that some doubts will arise. The Conservative minority government has a duty not to play partisan politics with an issue as important as the justice system.
The Bloc Québécois believes that what really needs to be attacked first and foremost are poverty, inequality and exclusion. They aggravate the frustrations and crime in our communities if not dealt with by the government on a priority basis.
The Bloc Québécois knows very well that many changes must be made to the current justice system and that some adjustments to the Criminal Code are essential. The government has a duty to take action and use the tools at its disposal to enable Quebeckers and Canadians to live safely and peacefully.
The measures introduced must have a positive impact on crime. They must be more than rhetoric or a campaign based on fear. We must avoid copying the American model, which yielded much less positive results than anticipated.
Crime has been steadily decreasing in Quebec, as it has in Canada for the last 15 or so years. Statistics Canada recent stated that in 2006, the overall crime rate in this country hit its lowest in 25 years. Quebec had its lowest homicide rate since 1962.
Unfortunately, there will always be crime in our society. We can never fully eradicate all crime. But statistics show that the current approach should not be discarded in favour of the US model. This means that we must look for improvements while keeping an open mind about the realities facing Quebeckers and Canadians.
In the past, Quebeckers have relied on individualized justice based on a judicial process that is flexible and suited to each case, with positive results. The homicide rate in Quebec is one of the lowest in Canada and is four times lower than in the United States.
Justice is an important issue, and this model must truly correspond to the realities facing Quebec and Canada.
In conclusion, I would like to say that Quebeckers and my constituents from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord do not want a justice system based on the U.S. system.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 26th, 2007 / 12:15 p.m.
Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in today's debate at report stage of Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
Briefly, on October 18, the Minister of Justice tabled omnibus Bill C-2, which regroups the main “law and order“ bills that were introduced by the government, during the first session of the 39th Parliament.
Indeed, Bill C-2 includes defunct Bills C-10, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act, C-27, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (dangerous offenders and recognizance to keep the peace), C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, and C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences).
Those who are listening to us should know that this government bill provides nothing new. During the last session, I had the opportunity to take part in the debate and to express Quebec's vision on justice, as it relates to several of those bills.
In fact, before prorogation, three of those bills were already before the Senate, namely Bills C-10, C-22 and C-35. As for the other two, that is Bills C-27 and C-32, they were in the last stages of the parliamentary process in the House.
However, all these bills died on the order paper, when the Conservative government itself decided, for purely partisan motives, to end the parliamentary session and to present a new Speech from the Throne.
Today, we find ourselves debating again the work that has already been accomplished in the House. This is why, when the government pretends to be the only one going to bat for innocent people through rehashed and amended legislation, I cannot help but wonder about such a preposterous claim.
The people of Quebec deserve that crime be tackled seriously, without playing petty politics with fundamental rights, and, above all, they deserve to be presented with the real picture. For those interested in politics, I point out that the Bloc Québécois was fully involved in the review process for Bill C-2, in spite of the very tight timeframe, to consider all aspects of that bill. My colleagues and myself believe that any bill of such importance, which could have such a significant impact on the people, has to be thoroughly examined.
It would, however, be somewhat tedious to examine again amendments made previously. With respect to former bills C-10, C-22 and C-35, in our opinion, the parliamentary debate has already taken place and the House has already voted in favour of those bills. We therefore respect the democratic choice that has been made. As for former Bill C-32, which died on the order paper before report stage, we had already announced our intention: we would be opposing it. This brings me to the part stemming from former Bill C-27, about which we expressed serious reservations at the time but which we nonetheless examined in committee so that it would be reviewed responsibly.
In short, the provisions in Bill C-2 which stem from former Bill C-27 amend the Criminal Code to provide that the court shall find an offender who has been convicted of three serious crimes to be a dangerous offender, unless the judge is satisfied that the protection of society can be appropriately ensured with a lesser sentence.
At present, the dangerous offender designation is limited to very serious crimes, such as murder, rape and many others, and to individuals who present a substantial risk to reoffend. An individual may be found to be a dangerous offender on a first conviction, when the brutality and circumstances of the offence leave no hope of the individual ever being rehabilitated.
We have some concerns regarding Bill C-27, particularly the impact of designating a greater number of dangerous offenders and reversing the onus of proof, two processes that definitely increase the number of inmates and that are contrary to the wishes of Quebeckers as to how offenders should be controlled.
We are not the only ones who have expressed concerns with regard to this aspect of Bill C-27. My colleague for Windsor—Tecumseh is proposing an amendment today that would remove the reverse onus of proof found in this bill. He believes it would not survive a charter challenge. Even though we realize that this amendment could lead to improvements in Bill C-2, we will reject it because the Conservative government, in attempting to govern with contempt for the majority in the House of Commons, would link this amendment to a confidence vote.
With regard to amendments, I repeat that the Bloc Québécois is aware that many improvements must be made to the current judicial system and that changes to the Criminal Code are required. The government must intervene and use the tools at its disposal enabling citizens to live in peace and safety. In our own meetings with citizens we identified specific concerns as well as the desire to change things by using an original approach. We wanted to make a positive contribution meeting the aspirations of our fellow citizens.
We therefore proposed a number of amendments that my colleague the member for Hochelaga, right here, worked very hard on with the caucus. We prepared a series of amendments to improve the bill and the justice system. These are complementary measures that will strengthen its effectiveness.
We proposed, among other things, realistic amendments to eliminate parole being granted almost automatically after one-sixth of a sentence has been served and statutory release once two-thirds of a sentence has been served, by having a professional formally assess inmates regarding the overall risk of reoffending that they represent to the community.
Another amendment was aimed at attacking the street gang problem—with which my colleague from Hochelaga is very familiar—by giving the police better tools, in particular, by extending the warrants for investigations using GPS tracking.
We put forward many other amendments. Unfortunately, none of them was accepted, even though some amendments are unanimously supported by the public security ministers of Quebec and other provinces. Consequently, Bill C-2 was not amended in any way during committee review. It is a shame that the Conservative government once again preferred an approach based on ideology rather than democracy. It preferred to combine bills that, for the most part, had already been approved by the House of Commons, rather than focusing on some others that deserved very close examination. Above all, it is refusing to improve Bill C-2 with respect to practical priorities.
In putting forward its amendments, the Bloc Québécois has remained consistent with its objective of using effective and appropriate measures to evaluate the relevance of each bill. It has also demonstrated its concern for prevention of crime, which should be high priority. Attacking the deep-rooted causes of delinquency and violence, rather than cracking down when a problem arises is, in our opinion, a more appropriate and, above all, more profitable approach from both a social and financial point of view.
That must be very clear. The first step must be to deal with poverty, inequality and exclusion in all forms. These are the issues that create a fertile breeding ground for frustration and its outlets, which are violence and criminal activity.
However, it is essential that the measures presented should actually make a positive contribution to fighting crime. It must be more than just rhetoric or a campaign based on fear. It must be more than an imitation of the American model and its less than convincing results.
I mention the important fact that for the past 15 years criminal activity has been steadily decreasing in Quebec, as it has elsewhere in Canada. Statistics Canada confirmed just recently that for the year 2006 the overall crime rate in Canada was at its lowest level in more than 25 years. What is more, Quebec recorded the smallest number of homicides since 1962. Indeed, in violent crimes, Quebec ranks second, just behind Prince Edward Island. Quebec also recorded a drop of 4% in the crime rate among young people in 2006, which was better than all other provinces. Those are solid facts which should serve as an example to this government and on which it should base its actions.
I will close by saying that we will be supporting Bill C-2 at third reading, on its way to the Senate. However, I remind the House that we were in favour of four of the five bills that are now included in Bill C-2 and those bills would have already been far advanced in the parliamentary process if the government had not prorogued the House for purely partisan reasons.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 26th, 2007 / noon
Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure, at report stage of Bill C-2, to deliver some comments to the omnibus crime bill.
I have had the experience of serving on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and also the legislative committees that were involved with the former Bills C-10, C-22, C-27, C-32, C-35 and C-23, which is not part of the omnibus bill.
I speak with experience at least with respect to the bills and I understand how we came to be here today to speak about what the bill contains. A lot of discussion took place in the debates of the House and in committee with respect to the direction we should take with respect to our criminal justice.
It is important for us, as parliamentarians, to consider what we do when we amend the Criminal Code and its corollary acts. We are dealing with the Criminal Code. It is an organic document. It changes with the times. It is copied and exemplified by one of Canada's justice ministers and prime ministers, Sir John Thompson, from eastern Canada. It has certainly changed with the times as has our society.
In the 1890s the crimes that were top priority might have been things like cattle and horse theft, murder and some common ones. However, with the changing times, we have seen a proliferation of gang related violence, e-crimes, things that would not have existed at the turn of the century.
The point of raising that is as our society changes and the code changes, we owe it to this place, to the committees, to the law enforcement official, which include prosecutors, policemen, probation workers, corrections officers, people in the correction system and judges, quite a fraternity of people involved in the criminal justice system, to say that we looked at these various laws. We looked at how Canada was changing and at the end, we did the very best we could to keep track of what tools would be best to tackle the new problems that exist in society. It is not as if we are inventing new aspects of law. Many of these bills represent an evolution or a progression of laws that already exist.
Just briefly on the guts of the bill, if you like, Mr. Speaker, Bill C-10, which is now part of C-2, was of course dealing with the mandatory minimum provisions which were increased by the introduction of this bill, but they were not increased as much as the government had wanted them to be originally.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the opposition Bloc Québécois critic on the committee as well as the Liberal members on the committee who fought very hard to have some sense reign over the debate with respect to the evidence that was adduced at the committee hearings regarding the efficacy of mandatory minimums in general.
A review is in order. Mandatory minimums existed before the Conservative government was elected. Mandatory minimums were in place for serious crimes with the known aspect of repeat offenders and with some hope, which studies will show one way or the other, that there might be a deterrent and a safety to the public aspect of mandatory minimums.
At least on this side we joined with the Conservatives who, I would say, were very sparse in their acknowledgement that mandatory minimums existed before they came into office, but we joined with them and said that these are good tools for the law enforcement agencies and good tools in the realm of criminal justice.
It is a matter always of how far we go. How far do we go in disciplining our children? Do we take away their favourite toy? Do we ban them from seeing their friends for two weeks? Are we less severe or more severe? Many of us are parents and we deal with this every day. It is our form of the justice system that rules in our own house.
With respect to mandatory minimums, it is a question of calibrating to what extent the mandatory minimums are useful, to what extent do they work, and to what extend should they be increased, if at all.
During the debate process we were very successful in getting the government to get off its basic premise, which is if it is good for the six o'clock news and sounds robust, steady and law and orderish, then it has to be good in the Criminal Code. That is where the slip from the cup to the lip occurred, where it was obvious 90% of the witnesses were saying that the severe mandatory minimums that the government side were proposing would be inefficacious.
We can be as tough as we want, but if it does not work, if it does not make society safer, then we have not posited a good solution to the problems that face our community, and that was the case when we looked at mandatory minimums.
The happy medium that exists in Bill C-2 I think will be borne out, but it is very important to remember that this is an organic process and we could be back here some day soon, perhaps, looking at mandatory minimums in general.
How more timely could it be than in today's Ottawa Citizen, a report called “Unlocking America” is reviewed. In this report, it makes it very clear that the mandatory minimums, one of the many tools used by the American government from the 1970s on when it was felt that the rise in criminal activity was abhorrent, was not as effective as the Americans would have hope it would have been. It left the United States with 2.2 million people behind bars, more than China. The nine authors, leading U.S. criminologists, said that they were convinced that they needed a different strategy.
I am happy to report that as a result of the efforts of the NDP, Bloc and the Liberal Party in general at committee, we did not go as far as the Conservative government wanted to, which was close to where the United States had been which now New York State and New York City admits, is ineffective.
The three effects of imprisonment, and emphasis only on imprisonment, at the cost of crime prevention dollars, if you like, Mr. Speaker, is that the heavy, excessive incarceration hits minorities very hard. In the United States, 60% of the prison population is made up of Blacks and Latinos.
We heard evidence at our committee that there is a preponderance, an over-exaggerated percentage, of first nations and aboriginal people in our jail system, according to their population, which is deplorable. It is overwhelming and undisputed that the negative side effects of incarceration outweigh the potential. That is the two bits on Bill C-10,
On the other bill, Bill C-22, the close in age exemption, was never brought up. Despite all the rhetoric from the government, nothing would save Bill C-22. The issue of sexual consent being given by a person of tender years has never been put forward by any member of the opposition while the Liberal Party was in power.
The close in age exemption was never put in there, so for members of the opposite side to say that finally we dealt with the issue of sexual exploitation of 14 year olds is simply not accurate. The close in age exemption, five years between a person of the age specified, will save many relationships that should not be criminalized.
I live in Acadia. And Bill C-23 included many improvements with respect to choosing the first language of prosecutors during a trial. French is the language spoken by most people in my province. That element was very important to us in Acadia, but the government overlooked this fact.
Why did the government turn its back on the francophone people of New Brunswick in this country?
Tackling Violent Crime Act
November 23rd, 2007 / 12:50 p.m.
Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON
Mr. Speaker, we should not even be here debating this bill, which should have received royal assent last spring. The government has been playing games with Parliament. It is not governing and it uses Parliament as a political playground. It has shown a complete lack of respect towards Parliament.
The government refused the fast tracking offer of our party and it actively delayed these important initiatives while hoping for an election last spring in which they could run on their crime and punishment agenda.
As was mentioned by the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, I too would like to remind this House of the scenario from last spring. Bill C-10 received first reading on May 6 and was delayed 38 days before second reading, 146 days before it was sent to committee. The committee met 105 days and then from the committee report to report stage it took another 75 days. From report stage to third reading, it took 22 days.
Bill C-22 received first reading on June 22, 2006 and was delayed 130 days before second reading, 142 days before it was sent to committee. The bill was 29 days in committee, four days until the committee reported, 11 days to report stage, and then to third reading on the following day.
Bill C-27 received first reading on October 17, 2006 and was delayed 199 days before second reading on May 4, 2007, four days to committee, and then 36 days to report stage.
Bill C-32 received first reading on November 21, 2006 and was delayed 77 days before second reading, 113 days until it was sent to committee, and then 20 days in committee and the committee reported the following day.
Bill C-35, an act to amend the Criminal Code, received first reading November 23, 2006 and was delayed 123 days before second reading, two days before it went to the committee where it was studied for 61 days, and then one day until it was reported in the House. It took five days to report stage and one day until third reading.
This is no way to tackle violent crime. In fact, again the government is simply posturing and using the Parliament of this country as a little electoral toy, instead of actually taking this seriously. The Conservatives are only posturing. I have never been so disappointed, from the committees to the behaviour here, to see that these parliamentarians have not been allowed to act like parliamentarians because of this appetite for an election and a majority.
Last evening, at the End Exclusion 2007 conference, one of the members of the disability community said to me that social policy and social justice was homeless in the government. In terms of tackling violent crime, women with disabilities, who are the most abused, most often the victims of violent crime, want to see some policies that will affect them.
The seniors that we met with the member for London North Centre are very upset in terms of the people looking after them. Elder abuse no longer has automatic charges and the poor, vulnerable seniors are still asked as to whether or not they want to press charges.
From early learning and child care where we know we can help effect the behaviour of young children, to bullying programs, literacy programs, to cutting women's programs that affect the Interval houses, to the summer jobs program where kids can finally maybe find out that they are good at something, the government has consistently cut the prevention and the causes of violent crime.
I remember in 1995 when I ran provincially. We knew then what premier Harris was about to do. He cut the arts programs, the music programs, the sports programs, the homework clubs and the family counselling, and 10 years later we ended up with terrible trouble with guns and gangs.
At the Tumivut shelter in my riding, when I meet with some of the members of the black community, it has been absolutely horrifying to hear that the results of those cuts were really to people who did not feel included. The first time this young man said that he had ever felt included was when he joined a gang. The first time he was told that he was good at anything was when he was shoplifting.
It is very upsetting to see that the government just does not understand that investing in programs allows kids to find talents in art and music and find summer jobs. It is absolutely horrifying to think that this idea of just locking up people and throwing away the key will be the way to get a safer society.
Canada used to boast the lowest recidivism rate in the world because of what happened to people in prisons. That meant an education. They might even get a bachelor's degree. Some of them have even obtained law degrees. With anger management and drug rehabilitation programs, they have been able to come out with new talents, meet new friends, and never reoffend again.
We do not want our prisons to become schools for criminality, where people are trained for a life of crime. It is hugely important, as we look forward to the real challenge of tackling violent crime in the long term, that the government address the causes of crimes and the kinds of programs that are so important in our prison system.
I feel that I cannot stand in the House without commenting that the government has rendered this place and the committees of the House to an all time low in my 10 years as a parliamentarian. Members of Parliament are not allowed to speak freely in committee, they are scripted and rehearsed in the Prime Minister's Office. There is this unbelievable inability of cabinet ministers to even speak or show up at events they had booked themselves. As the Clerk of the House of Commons so often reminds us, this building is to be something more than to hang Christmas lights on.
It is appalling that we do not understand that the job of chairs of committees is not to dictate. Their job is to find the will of the committee and put it forward. They are not to have, like what happened yesterday in the health committee, the minister whispering in the chair's ear in the middle of the meeting. It is not up to the chair of a committee to decide, with 15 minutes to go, that the minister gets 15 minutes to sum up.
There seems to be an absolute lack of understanding of the role of the House and the role of committees in terms of really calling the government to account. Government reports to Parliament. It is not the other way around. No amendments mean no democracy. This is a travesty of the role of citizens.
I hope that in the next election people will see that the ballot box question will be whether citizens have a role at all after the next election because citizens have been silenced, members of Parliament have been silenced, and ministers are being instructed what to do. I worry for the democracy of this country should these people be allowed to govern any longer.
November 13th, 2007 / 9:05 a.m.
Andy Rady Director, Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers
Good morning to all. I'm here along with Evan Roitenberg on behalf of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers. I want to thank you all for allowing us to attend and be witnesses this morning. I'm going to make a few brief opening remarks and then Mr. Roitenberg will continue.
For those of you who aren't familiar with our organization, we are a council of defence lawyers from across Canada, including the territories, of 17 persons. We represent criminal law associations in all of the provinces; they all have a member on our association. So we respond on matters of national interest to the defence bar as a whole. We've been doing this since 1992, and we've appeared before this committee and other committees over the years.
Bill C-2 consisted of five other bills in the previous Parliament, and we've already made representations on those: Mark Brayford from Saskatchewan on Bill C-32, Bill Trudell on Bill C-35, Mr. Trudell and myself on Bill C-10, and Mr. Roitenberg was set to speak on Bill C-27 before Parliament dissolved.
It is our position that the current system of dangerous offender legislation in the Criminal Code works and need not be changed. We have concerns with Bill C-2. Our concern is that if society is going to seek to lock someone up indefinitely, the burden must in all cases be on society to show that this should occur. In other words, we're talking about what we call the reverse onus provision of Bill C-2 with respect to dangerous offenders.
It is our position that this new section really provides a false sense of security and nothing else to what we already have, which is a very careful system, because dangerous offender designations result in perhaps the most draconian penalities that we know in our law. We are concerned as well that what the burden-shifting does is place it on the defence and on the accused person. One of the things that appears not to have been considered is the effect this is going to have on legal aid plans throughout the country. Obviously, if the convicted person is going to have to try to demonstrate why they should not be declared dangerous, the kinds of resources they are going to require from legal aid plans are going to be very high. We're concerned that there isn't a corresponding amount of funding for that.
We also have some concern with respect to the fact that it would appear that aboriginal offenders represent--at least a few years ago--21% of all dangerous offender designations. This is not reflective of the overall aboriginal population. Again, that may have to do with a cost situation in terms of being able to defend dangerous offender applications. One of the things we read indicated that it takes the crown approximately 600 man-hours to put one of these together. If that burden shifts to the accused, we're going to see more dangerous offenders simply because they're not going to have the resources to meet this reverse onus test.
October 30th, 2007 / 4:35 p.m.
Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm pleased to be joined at the table by Catherine Kane, the acting senior general counsel, criminal law policy section; and Douglas Hoover, counsel, criminal law policy section.
Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to appear before your committee as it begins its review of Bill C-10, the Tackling Violent Crime Act.
This is the government's first piece of legislation in this session of Parliament. The Tackling Violent Crime Act underscores our commitment to safeguard Canadians in their homes and on their streets and in their communities. It is a confidence measure. Bill C-10 reflects the depth of this unwavering commitment by the Government of Canada.
As a confidence measure, Bill C-10 reflects the depth of this unwavering commitment.
Canadians are losing confidence in our criminal justice system. They want a justice system that has clear and strong laws that denounce and deter violent crime. They want a justice system that imposes penalties that adequately reflect the serious nature of these crimes and that rehabilitate offenders to prevent them from reoffending. Bill C-10 seeks to restore Canadians' confidence in our system by restoring their safety and security in their communities, and this is in fact what is reflected in the preamble to Bill C-2.
The proposed Tackling Violent Crime Act brings together five criminal law reform bills that we introduced in the previous session of Parliament. One of them, Bill C-10, imposed higher mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment for eight specific offences involving the use of restricted or prohibited firearms or in connection with organized crime, which of course includes gangs, and also for offences that do not involve the actual use of a firearm--namely, firearm trafficking or smuggling--or the illegal possession of a restricted or prohibited firearm with ammunition. The Tackling Violent Crime Act reintroduces the former Bill C-10 as passed by the House of Commons.
It also includes one of my favourites, Bill C-22, which increased the age of consent for sexual activity from 14 to 16 years of age to protect young people against adult sexual predators. There is proposed, as I'm sure you are aware, a five-year close-in-age exception to prevent the criminalization of sexual activity between consenting teenagers. The Tackling Violent Crime Act reintroduces Bill C-22 as passed by the House of Commons.
It also includes Bill C-32, which addressed impaired driving by proposing the legislative framework for the drug recognition expert program and requiring participation in roadside and drug recognition expert sobriety testing; by simplifying the investigation and prosecution of impaired driving; and by proposing procedural and sentencing changes, including creating the new offences of being “over 80” and refusing to provide a breath sample where the person's operation of the vehicle has caused bodily harm or death. The Tackling Violent Crime Act reintroduces the former Bill C-32 as amended and reported back from the justice committee.
We also have Bill C-35, which imposes a reverse onus for bail for accused charged with any of eight serious offences committed with a firearm, with an indictable offence involving firearms or other regulated weapons if committed while under a weapons prohibition order, or with firearm trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking and firearm smuggling. The Tackling Violent Crime Act reintroduces the former Bill C-35 as passed by the House of Commons.
The Tackling Violent Crime Act also reintroduces reforms proposed by the former Bill C-27, addressing dangerous and repeat violent offenders, with additional improvements.
As I have noted, and with the exception of the dangerous offenders reforms, all of these reforms have been thoroughly debated, reviewed, and supported in the House of Commons.
These reforms included in Bill C-27 had not progressed to the same level of understanding and support in the previous session and now include additional improvements to address concerns that have been identified in the House of Commons as well as by my provincial and territorial counterparts. Let me take a moment to go through these reforms.
The Tackling Violent Crime Act retains all of the reforms previously proposed in Bill C-27 regarding peace bonds, which had been well received within the House of Commons and beyond. Accordingly, Bill C-10 proposes to double the maximum duration of these protective court orders from one to two years and to clarify that the court can impose a broad range of conditions to ensure public safety, including curfews, electronic monitoring, treatment, and drug and alcohol prohibitions.
I believe this particular provision will be well received across this country. Many people have complained for many years that by the time you get a one-year peace bond, it's too short a period of time, and that two years would be much more appropriate in terms of getting the bond and having it put in place.
Under this bill as well as under the former Bill C-27, crown prosecutors will still have to declare in open court whether or not they intend to bring a dangerous offender application where an individual is convicted for a third time of a serious offence.
We have retained some procedural enhancements to the dangerous offenders procedures, allowing for more flexibility regarding the filing of the necessary psychiatric assessments.
As in the former Bill C-27, an individual who is convicted of a third sufficiently violent or sexual offence is still presumed dangerous.
Bill C-10 also toughens the sentencing provision regarding whether a dangerous offender should receive an indeterminate or a less severe sentence. This amendment modifies Bill C-27's approach to make the courts impose a sentence that ensures public safety.
Finally, it includes a new provision that would allow a crown prosecutor to apply for a second dangerous offender sentencing hearing in the specific instance where an individual is convicted of breaching a condition of their long-term supervision order.
This second hearing targets individuals who were found by the original court to meet the dangerous offender criteria but were nonetheless able to satisfy the court that they could be managed under the lesser long-term offender sentence. If they show by their conduct, once released into the community, that they are not manageable and are convicted of the offence of breaching a condition of their supervision order, they would now be subject to another dangerous offender sentence hearing.
Importantly, this new proposal does not wait for the offender to commit yet another sexual assault or violent offence to bring the offender back for a second hearing for a dangerous offender sentence. Instead, it would be triggered simply by the offender's failure to comply with the conditions of his release contained in his long-term supervision order--for example, for failing to return to his residence before curfew or for consuming alcohol or drugs. Of course, this second hearing would also be triggered if the offender in fact did commit a further sexual or violent offence after his release into the community.
These new proposals directly respond to a serious problem identified by provincial and territorial attorneys general in recent months. Indeed, some of these issues have been flagged since about 2003. Since the 2003 judgment by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Johnson case, many violent offenders who meet the dangerous offender criteria have nonetheless managed to escape its indeterminate sentence on the basis that they could be managed; that is, the risk of harm that they pose to the community could be successfully managed in the community under a long-term offender sentence.
So we reviewed the dangerous offender cases since the 2003 Johnson case and identified 74 such violent offenders. We then looked at how these individuals fared once they were released into the community. To date, 28 of these 74 dangerous offenders have been released into the community. Of these 28, over 60% were subsequently detained for breaching the conditions of their long-term supervision and 10 were convicted of breaching a condition of their long-term supervision orders.
Bill C-10 will prevent dangerous offenders from escaping the dangerous offender indeterminate sentence in the first place and will enable us to more effectively deal with those who nonetheless receive the long-term offender sentence but then demonstrate an inability to abide by the conditions of their long-term offender supervision order.
Of course I have carefully considered the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights in respect of the totality of these new dangerous offender reforms, and I am satisfied that they are fully constitutional. These measures have been carefully tailored to provide a prospective, targeted, and balanced response to the real and pressing problem posed by these dangerous offenders.
To sum up, Mr. Chairman, the Tackling Violent Crime Act proposes reforms that have already been supported by the House of Commons.
In the case of the new dangerous offender provisions, it proposes modifications that many have signalled an interest in supporting.
I appreciate the collaborative spirit this committee and members have shown thus far to enable the commencement of the review of Bill C-10, and it is my hope and that of all Canadians that this collaboration will continue to enable expeditious passage of this bill.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
October 26th, 2007 / 12:55 p.m.
Prince George—Peace River
Jay Hill Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip
Mr. Speaker, as I have done with all the speeches this afternoon, I listened with great interest to the words of my colleagues from the opposition parties. I would like to take this opportunity to perhaps correct some of the motives the member attributes to the Conservative government in bringing forward this tackling violent crime act, Bill C-2, and then pose a question.
Toward the end of his remarks he asserted that our government is driven by partisan political considerations. I would like to state for the record that no, what we are driven by here is to try to reform our justice system or, maybe more appropriately, that we are driven by a desire to restore fairness and justice to our legal system in this country.
That is the real reason behind the fact that in our short-lived government we have brought forward so many new initiatives in the justice department. In fact, he mentioned the fact that we brought forward a dozen bills alone in this Parliament already.
The other fallacy that I would like to quickly correct for the record is this whole business that somehow by combining these bills we are going to delay them. The fact is, and my colleague clearly identified this, Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, encompasses some five previous bills. I will run through them very quickly.
Previously, Bill C-10, mandatory minimum penalties for firearms offences, was stalled in committee for 252 days and the bill died after a total of 414 days before Parliament.
Bill C-22, age of protection, was stalled in committee for 175 days and the bill died after a total of 365 days before Parliament.
Bill C-27, dangerous offenders, was stalled in committee for 105 days and the bill died after a total of 246 days before Parliament.
Bill C-35, reverse onus on bail for firearms offences, was stalled in committee for 64 days and the bill died after a total of 211 days before Parliament.
Finally, Bill C-32, drug impaired driving, was stalled in committee for 149 days and the bill died after a total of 210 days before Parliament.
I think Canadians are waking up to the fact that a lot of these bills were stalled in the upper chamber in our parliamentary system. What are we talking about? We are talking about an unelected, unaccountable, Liberal dominated Senate. In other words, an upper chamber dominated by our process in this Parliament by the opposition.
Obviously, even the temporary current leader of the official opposition, the leader of the Liberal Party, has no control over the Senate. He has no control over his colleagues over there in getting this legislation moved forward.
In the last election campaign, all four parties running in the election said they wanted to get tough with violent crime. Yet, when we put this legislation through, the Liberals allowed it to be stalled over there. What have we done? We have combined them because the Senate will be less able to stall one or two bills because Canadians will be awakened to the fact that if the Liberals stall Bill C-2, they will clearly understand that the Liberal Party has never been serious about violent crime. It says one thing but does the opposite.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
October 26th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, today we are debating what the government considers to be the most important component of the throne speech presented a few days ago, Bill C-2.
First of all, there is a myth that I would like to dispel. On several occasions the members on the government side have unfortunately taken some liberties with the truth. They have suggested that, in this Parliament, the opposition parties—the official opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP—did not cooperate, that they acted like spoilsports and had unduly and excessively delayed passage of the justice bills. We need to set the record straight. This presentation of the facts is false, dishonest and, at the very least, misleading.
Since coming into power in January 2006, the Conservative government has tabled 12 justice bills. They were studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the legislative committee and six of them have received royal assent. Therefore, since the government came into office in January 2006, six bills have been adopted and received royal assent.
I will mention them quickly, for information purposes: Bill C-9, on conditional sentencing; Bill C-17, on the salaries of judges; Bill C-18, on the DNA data bank; Bill C-19, which was meant as a tribute to a Conservative member who unfortunately passed away, and which makes street racing a new offence under the Criminal Code; the fifth bill, namely Bill C-48, on the United Nations Convention against Corruption and on international crime, was fast-tracked and supported by all opposition parties and the government; finally, the sixth one, is Bill C-59, creating a new offence, under the Criminal Code, for the unauthorized recording of a movie in a movie theatre. That legislation was quickly passed, at the request of the Bloc Québécois, which had enlisted the support of the official opposition and of the NDP.
Again, of the 12 bills introduced by the government, six received royal assent. That left six, with four of them being in the Senate. That was the case for Bill C-10, on minimum penalties for offences involving firearms, and for Bill C-22, on the age of protection. The Conservatives proposed to raise the age of protection from 14 to 16 years. As mentioned earlier, opposition parties requested that a close in age provision be included, to provide for a difference of five or two years, depending on the age being considered.
As I just mentioned, Bill C-10 and Bill C-22 were before the Senate. Bill C-23, which is a rather technical bill on the language used during a trial before a jury, was also before the Senate, as was Bill C-35, dealing with the reverse onus, at the pre-trial hearing, for a number of very serious offences. The committee was told that this was already the usual practice, and that a justice of the peace or a superior court judge very rarely grants bail at the pre-trial hearing, when the individual is accused of murder, assault or sexual assault. This was already an established practice.
In summary, six bills have been passed and have received royal assent, and four had already gone through third reading in the House of Commons and were in the Senate. This left us with two bills: the dangerous offenders bill, Bill C-27, which I will address later, and Bill C-32 dealing with impaired driving.
Could the Prime Minister and the Conservative team be asked to be a little more relaxed and show a more nuanced and respectful attitude toward the opposition?
We are going to do our job. In the past, we have given the government our cooperation when that was necessary, but we have introduced amendments because, unfortunately, an entire segment of the Conservative caucus has no idea of nuances. I will give examples. Had Bill C-32 been passed as written, without amendments, anyone driving his or her own car with a passenger on board who was in possession of a small amount of marijuana could have faced prosecution or arrest.
Was that the purpose of the legislation? This bill was intended to address a public safety issue, recognizing that no one should be operating a vehicle on public roadways while under the influence of drugs, and to allow for drivers to be subjected to standardized tests known as standardized field sobriety tests. The intention certainly was not to pass legislation to target drivers carrying drugs without their knowledge. That could happen. I could give three people a ride to my cottage without knowing that one of them has marijuana in his or her pocket. This would have made me liable to prosecution.
This is the sort of excess the Conservatives are guilty of, when we are talking about a bill, a motivation, and an intent that are utterly defensible in terms of public policy. But when the Conservatives are left to their own devices, when they are ruled by that extreme wing of their caucus and blinded by the idea of law and order, they come up with bills that have to be amended.
Conditional sentencing has been mentioned. When we began looking at Bill C-9, the first justice bill the Conservatives introduced—the member for London West will recall—we were told that conditional sentences represented only 5% of sentences.
If you look at all the sentences handed down in all the courts in Canada in recent years for which records have been kept, you see that conditional sentences, which allow offenders to serve their sentence in the community under supervision, represented only 5% of sentences.
If we had adopted the bill as introduced by the Conservatives, all offences punishable by more than two years in prison might have been excluded from this tool judges have for determining how a sentence can be served in the community.
I repeat that I am extremely disappointed with the attitude of the Prime Minister, who asks the opposition to vote for bills, but will not tolerate any amendments to those bills. How can anyone be so authoritarian? How can anyone be so cavalier? How can anyone be so disrespectful of Canadian democracy and tell the 57% or 58% of Canadians who did not elect Conservative members that if their representatives do not fall into line with the Conservative platform, they cannot introduce amendments in this House?
I assure my colleagues that we are going to consider the issue and that we will work very quickly, with all due diligence. And we will introduce amendments if we feel that they are in the interest of the people we represent.
The government wants this bill to go to committee quickly. The leaders have agreed on this. Later today, the whip will introduce a motion, and once again we have offered to cooperate.
Next week, we will have this bill before us, but we will not allow ourselves to be led by the nose by this government. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they were intractable and often mean-spirited. They constantly, systematically filibustered. Never have I seen such filibustering. Sometimes it went on day and night.
The current Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food did the filibustering. He led this House in circles regarding employment equity. At the time, I was a young, naive and vulnerable member. I had just been elected and was experiencing my first filibuster. Furthermore, the current Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was uncompromising on the issue of employment equity, which was under the responsibility of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
They cannot have it both ways. A person cannot say that it is fine to filibuster when they are in opposition, only to turn around, once they are in the governing party, and refuse the opposition's right to present amendments. This is irresponsible and disrespectful.
Bill C-2 merges five pieces of legislation. Of those pieces of legislation, the Bloc Québécois supported four of them, with amendments. In committee, of course, we will not ask to repeat the work that has already been done.
However, we have a problem with Bill C-27, concerning dangerous offenders. As we all know, the Criminal Code has included provisions on this matter since 1947. In the past, we did not use the term dangerous offender, but rather habitual criminal. I wonder whether certain members, those who have been practising law for some time, remember that expression. The Liberals already changed those provisions by creating a new category of dangerous offenders—long-term offenders—in Bill C-55.
What is our line of questioning? I would like to be clear. I am telling the government that the Bloc Québécois would like to see three main groups of witnesses. First, we would like to hear constitutional experts on the constitutionality of the reverse onus principle, in the same terms in which this bill was presented.
We would then like to see a second group of witnesses. I would remind the House that when the Minister of Justice appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, he was unable to tell us what it is about the administrative and judicial process for dangerous offenders that is not working.
Currently, a person can be labelled a dangerous offender after committing a first serious offence. Section 753 of the Criminal Code is very clear. If there is any reason to believe that that an individual is likely to cause a death, is out of control, or is likely to reoffend, that person can be declared a dangerous offender after a first offence. I am not saying that this is what usually happens. We are not talking about a large number of people here. About 350 people have been declared dangerous offenders, and some of them have been released under mandatory supervision. Of course, most of them are inside federal prisons.
We will run this by constitutional experts. It is our responsibility to ensure that this bill is not unconstitutional. We will ask people who make their living dealing with this issue before the courts to explain to us which parts of the current legislation are not working.
We will also ask a third group of witnesses about the list of offences. In the bill before us today, five types of offences would result in an individual being declared a dangerous offender. Naturally, most of them are serious crimes, such as attempted murder, murder, homicide and serious sexual crimes.
The government wants to expand this list to include 42 offences. The preliminary list includes 22 offences, one of which is assault. I do not wish to downplay the importance of assault. However, should an individual who has been convicted of assault three times be put on a list of dangerous offenders, with all of the consequences that entails?
There is a list of designated offences, which, I agree, are offences generally punishable by a sentence of more than five years. The question is, do we need to take this further? Is it important to have these two lists of offences?
Why ask this question? We are not questioning the fact that we need provisions in the Criminal Code for people who are so dangerous and present such a risk of recidivism that they need to be designated long term offenders, or dangerous offenders. A dangerous offender is someone who can be imprisoned for an indefinite period. Obviously, they are denied their freedom and denied eligibility for parole. Certainly—and I am not afraid to say so—this is justified in some situations. We understand that for some individuals there is no chance for rehabilitation and they have to be imprisoned for an indeterminate period.
Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to ensure that if we are going to pass legislation that considerably broadens the scope of this rule—which is in fact an exception to the general rule—then we have to be able to verify the facts in committee in order to make sure there is no risk of abuse or excess.
As hon. members know, the Conservatives are driven by partisan political considerations. That is “partisan” with a capital “P”.
As it stands, the crime rate has gone down in Canada. In any event, the homicide rate has gone down. The incidence of violent crime has gone down. I am not saying there has not been a worrisome increase in property crime in certain communities. However, generally speaking, we know full well that for a number of years now, major crime, such as homicide—crimes involving violence—has gone down year after year.
Criminologists who have studied these issues are saying that there is no correlation between a reliance on imprisonment and lower crime rates in a society. We do not live in a safer society and the communities are not safer because of widespread prison sentencing.
We know that the United States has an incarceration rate seven times greater than Canada's. In Canada, there are 132 or 134 prisoners for every 100,000 people.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
October 26th, 2007 / 12:10 p.m.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, I did not realize we were going to be moving on this quickly, which is a good development because it will move these bills along, as opposed to the government's approach, which has been one of delay.
In that regard, I want to do a quick resumé of what has happened in this Parliament starting in roughly mid-February of 2006, at which time we were faced with a large number of crime bills by the government. I took the opportunity to go through the list of bills that have been dealt with in one form or another.
The list was quite lengthy, starting with Bill C-9, which was a bill on conditional sentencing. That went through both Houses and has royal assent. There was one on the Judges Act, Bill C-17, and it also went through all stages. Another one relating to DNA identification went through all stages. As for Bill C-19 on street racing, a particularly emotional point for the Conservative Party, we got that one through. There was one on criminal interest rates, Bill C-26, and it got through. There was one, Bill C-48, which dealt with international crime syndicates and the need to fight corruption at that level, coming out of the UN, and it got through. The next one, dealing with the illegal recording of movies, went very quickly through the House with all parties cooperating. It never even went to committee.
In addition to that, we have had Bill C-22, which actually is part of Bill C-2, the bill that is before us now, passed at second reading in the Senate. It went through the House all the way to the Senate. We have had Bill C-10, an important bill on mandatory minimums, go through this House and into the Senate, where it was at first reading.
Similarly, Bill C-23 went through this House and got to the Senate, but it is not part of this bill. I am not sure if the government is going to bring that one back or not. On Bill C-35, which was the bill dealing with bail reviews involving alleged gun crimes and the reverse onus being placed, again, it got through all the work in this House and went to the Senate.
The final bill with regard to work that we had done and which was almost through this House was the bill dealing with impaired driving. That had cleared the committee and was coming back to the House. It would have been back in the House if we had not prorogued in the middle part of September.
These are all the bills we have had from the government. The final bill was still in committee and we had just started on it. We had three or four meetings taking witnesses on that bill, which deals with dangerous offenders and amendments to recognizance in the Criminal Code.
In addition, there were at least four to six private members' bills, all of them coming from the Conservative Party interestingly enough, which we dealt with and passed or dealt with in some fashion. One had to be withdrawn. We dealt with those as well.
All of that work was being done at the justice committee, with the exception, and this is really interesting, of two bills that went to special legislative committees. Because the justice committee's workload was so great, we moved them into special committees. However, we worked on those bills and got them through.
All of that is work we have done in a little over 18 months, yet in spite of that, there are two things the government does. It constantly complains about the length of time it takes, in regard to which the Conservatives could have done much better by originally having omnibus bills. I have said that in the House to the point where I am almost sick of hearing it myself, and I am sure everyone else in the House is, but it is the way they should have conducted themselves. Of course, though, because of their political agenda of wanting to highlight each one of these bills, they did not put them together. They finally came to their senses and realized that it is a way of moving bills through the House more rapidly.
However, we did all of that work, and now what we are hearing, which is the second point I want to make about the government, is that the delay is the fault of the opposition. That is absolutely false.
One can see from the length of the list of bills we have had to deal with, plus the private members' bills, plus working on two legislative committees in addition to all the work that we have done at justice, that nobody in the opposition has done any delaying. The delay with regard to the five bills that are incorporated now into Bill C-2 is entirely at the feet of the government. It prorogued and that cost us a month.
It is interesting to note what could have happened in that one month's time. It is my opinion that all three of the bills that were in the Senate would have been through and ready for royal assent, which again is in the hands of the government. If the government had conducted itself with any kind of efficiency, those bills probably would be law today.
The fourth bill, the one dealing with impaired driving, which again is part of Bill C-2, would have come to the House in the middle part of September when we came back. There was not a great deal of debate, and although I and my party have some reservations about it, we in fact would support it.
The bill would have had some debate in the House at report stage and third reading, but it would have been through the House and at least at first reading in the Senate now, perhaps at second reading. It is not beyond the pale to think that the bill also would have cleared the Senate and would have been ready for royal assent.
This bill bothers me. Of all the ones we have, this one bothers me the most because of the conduct of the government in dealing with the individuals, including the police officers and police associations, who lobbied really heavily to get this legislation, and in particular the families and supporters of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It bothers me that the government would have misused the loyalty and the support that those groups had given to the bill by leading them to believe that somehow it was the opposition that was holding it up, when in fact it was prorogation. Now there is this tactic of combining that bill with the other bills to actually slow down its passage. Otherwise there is a reasonably good chance it would have been law by now, and if not, it would have been in its final stages at the Senate and it certainly would have been law by the end of the year.
That is much less likely to happen now. It is more likely that this bill will not get final approval and royal assent until well into the spring, no matter what the government tries to do. Quite frankly we will do whatever we can to be cooperative in moving these bills forward.
Our party was quite prepared to have all four of those bills that I have mentioned which form 80% of Bill C-2 back at their original stages, again so they would be law or on the verge of becoming law, that is, receiving royal assent today, as opposed to what is likely to happen now. It is going to be into the new year and maybe well into the spring before these bills become law, assuming of course that the government does not collapse and there is an election, which is another problem.
The government has delayed it, and in addition, it has clearly pushed it back at least until the new year, with the real possibility of an election intervening and a number of these provisions never seeing the light of day until after the election, when we would come back and start the process all over again.
That is reprehensible conduct on the part of the government. The only reason the Conservatives are doing it is so they can stand up in public and say, “We are tough on crime”. They do the macho thing. They beat their chests. They do the King Kong thing as if they are coming out of a jungle. The reality is that the delay is all at their feet.
I am really angry when I think of all the work that so many groups have done, the victims of crime in particular, and now are being misused by the government in such a way.
I am not going to take up much more time but I do want to address the final bill that was at committee. Former Bill C-27 is now part of Bill C-2. It deals with two amendments to the Criminal Code. One would be on the provisions relating to dangerous offenders and the other is with regard to recognizance.
With regard to recognizance, I think I can safely say that all the opposition parties are in support of those provisions. They give additional authority to our judiciary to deal with people who are out in the community on their own recognizance, but we can put additional conditions on them.
The bill provides for things such as requiring them to wear a monitoring device. There is a number of other provisions that would substantially improve security in our communities regarding people who have now been released from charges and who have already served their time. It is a substantial step forward and one that has been needed.
I have said this in the House before, that when I started practising law back in the early 1970s we needed it at that time. Successive governments have tended to shy away from it. Our judiciary has attempted on a number of occasions to introduce these types of control devices, if I could put it that way, in terms of sentencing or conditions imposed on people and it has consistently lost in our courts of appeal. It required legislative intervention. The provision is in this bill and we need to pass that and get it into play so our judges can do a better job of helping protect Canadians, which they want to do.
The other part in this provision, the old Bill C-27 now part of Bill C-2, is with regard to dangerous offenders. We have significant problems with this. Originally when the bill came before the House as Bill C-27, all three opposition parties indicated that on principle they had to vote against it because it has a provision of reverse onus with regard to the dangerous offender.
All of us believe that that part of the bill would suffer a charter challenge that would be successful in striking it down. What I do not think the government has ever understood is that not only would it be struck down, but perhaps the whole dangerous offender section would be struck down. Just as we saw with the security certificates where the Supreme Court said that if it could not be fixed, they were all going down, the same type of thing could happen in a ruling on dangerous offenders. The government has never understood that.
Ultimately, the opposition parties decided that there were perhaps ways of amending this in committee to improve the use of the dangerous offender section, because we know we need to do that, and at the same time make sure that the section was not jeopardized by a successful charter challenge at some point in the future.
We were working on that when we ended in June. We fully expected that was one of the bills for the special legislative committee and that we would be back and working on it in September, that we would complete the witness testimony and improve the bill by way of amendment and if not, then I suppose we would have been faced with a conundrum of whether we could support it or not. That is where we are at this point.
That bill needs significant work in order to be sure that we do not lose the entire dangerous offender section of the Criminal Code. We will be doing that work as soon as we can get the committee up and running again and the bill into the committee.
It is very clear that the government, and I do not say this about the opposition parties, is prepared to play politics with public safety. The Conservatives want to be seen as the champions and they are prepared to take these kinds of manoeuvres of delaying these bills by incorporating them all into Bill C-2 so that they can do that. They want to stand up in the House and in the media and out on the hustings and say “we are the champions of it”, when in fact the truth is just the opposite. They were guilty. They are guilty of delay. The opposition parties are not.
Tackling Violent Crime Act
October 26th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.
Rob Moore Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to join in the debate on Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.
As the Minister of Justice noted when he spoke in reply to the Speech from the Throne, safe streets and secure communities are the Canadian way of life. This is what I would like to focus my remarks on today, how we are building a stronger, safer and better Canada, beginning with Bill C-2.
I have had many opportunities, as probably all members in the House have had, to talk with my constituents, parents, community leaders, police, lawyers, and many others about their concern with crime and what we should do about it.
What I have heard has likely been heard by all hon. members as they have travelled throughout their ridings and indeed across Canada. Canadians are clearly expecting their government to take concrete and effective action to tackle crime.
Unlike previous governments on this issue, the current government listens. We share these concerns and we have made tackling crime a key priority for our government. We have made it a key priority for our government because it is a key priority for Canadians, but there is so much more that needs to be done.
We know what crime looks like in Canada. Crime statistics have been recorded since 1962 so we have 45 years of information. Statistics Canada reported last July that the overall national crime rate has decreased for the second year in a row.
We all want to see a lower crime rate. So this is the good news. But the national crime rate is an average and does not tell us about some of the more serious problems or localized problems.
The long term trends over the last few generations show us what we all know in the House, that crime has increased drastically. Since the 1970s, for example, the violent crime rate has increased 98%, but the national crime rate does not tell us what may be going on in individual communities. Community leaders, victims groups and law enforcement know their particular challenges, and we are listening to them.
Many Canadians have lost confidence in the criminal justice system and question if it is doing enough to protect them. They know that violent crime is all too common. They dread hearing statistics like those released on October 17 by Statistics Canada.
Those statistics tell us that 4 out of 10, or 40% of victims of violent crimes sustained injuries. They tell us that half of violent crimes occurred at private residences. They tell us that firearms were involved in 30% of homicides, 31% of attempted murders and 13% of robberies committed. They tell us that one out of every six victims of violent crimes was a youth aged 12 to 17 years old and children under 12 years of age account for 23% of victims of sexual assaults and 5% of victims of violent crimes.
Canadians are looking to the federal government to work with them to restore community safety. The government understands the need for leadership in criminal justice and this is what our tackling crime priority, and our commitment in this regard is all about. It is about reducing all crime and providing an effective criminal justice system. Our plan is ambitious, but Canadians can count on us to get it done. As they have seen on other issues, we have been able to get things done for all Canadians.
In the last session of Parliament the government tabled 13 crime bills. This is proof of our commitment to address crime and safety issues in our communities. It is interesting to note that it was 13 crime bills as it was 13 years of Liberal governments that have left us with a revolving door justice system in which Canadians have lost faith, a justice system that Canadians feel puts the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of everyday, law-abiding Canadians. This is what our government is going to address.
Six of these crime bills, of the 13, received royal assent and are now the law or will soon become the law. For example, one of the government's first bills and first priorities was to curtail the use of conditional sentences or house arrest for serious violent crimes.
We all know the issue of house arrest. In all of our ridings we have heard cases where someone has committed a very serious, sometimes violent, crime and there is an expectation in the community that there will be a severe consequence for someone who commits a severe crime. All too often the community is outraged when it hears that criminals will be serving out their sentence from the comfort of their own home.
Bill C-9, which received royal assent on May 31, 2007, and will be coming into force on December 1, 2007, makes it clear that conditional sentences or house arrest will not be an option for serious personal injury offences, terrorism offences, and organized crime offences where the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years or more.
This change was a long time coming. It is well past due and Canadians will be better served by a justice system that does not allow, for these serious offences, criminals to serve a sentence in their own home. Canadians wanted this change.
Bill C-18 strengthened the laws governing the national DNA data bank. This will facilitate police investigation of crimes. Bill C-18 received royal assent on June 22, 2007. Some provisions are already in force and others will soon be proclaimed in force.
Bill C-19 made Canada's streets safer by enacting new offences to specifically combat street racing. These new offences built upon existing offences, including dangerous driving and criminal negligence, and provide higher maximum penalties of incarceration for the most serious of street racing offences.
As well, mandatory driving prohibition will be imposed on those convicted of street racing. In the most serious cases involving repeat street racing offenders, a mandatory lifetime driving prohibition can now be imposed.
We also took concrete steps to protect users of payday loans. Bill C-26, which received royal assent on May 3, 2007, makes it an offence to enter into an agreement or an arrangement to receive interest at a criminal rate or to receive payment of an interest at a criminal rate. The criminal rate of interest is defined as exceeding 60% per year.
We also took further measures to combat corruption. Bill C-48 enacted Criminal Code amendments to enable Canada to ratify and implement the United Nations convention against corruption on October 2, 2007. By ratifying the convention, Canada has joined 92 other state parties committed to working with the international community to take preventative measures against corruption.
Our bill to stop film piracy or camcording, Bill C-59, received widespread support. It was quickly passed and received royal assent on June 22, 2007.
Unfortunately, none of our other important crime bills progressed to enactment before Parliament prorogued. That is why the tackling violent crime act reintroduces the provisions of the following bills that died on the order paper.
Bill C-22, which increased the age of protection against adult sexual exploitation, has been included, as passed by the House of Commons.
Bill C-32, addressing drug impaired driving and impaired driving in general, has been introduced as amended by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and reported to the House of Commons.
Bill C-35, imposing a reverse onus for bail for firearms offences, has been included in this new bill, as passed by the House of Commons. This bill will make it tougher for those who have committed a firearms offence to received bail and be back out on the street.
Bill C-27, addressing dangerous and repeat violent offenders, as originally introduced, is included in this bill, but with some further amendments, which I will elaborate on shortly.
The tackling violent crime act respects the parliamentary process and includes the bills as amended by committee or as passed by the House of Commons, and in the same state that they were when Parliament was prorogued. As a result, these reforms are familiar, or should be familiar, to all members of this House, and so I would call on all hon. members to quickly pass the tackling violent crime act.
Indeed, many hon. members have already stated that they support these reforms. There is therefore no need to further debate these reforms or for a prolonged study of the provisions that Parliament has already debated and committees have already scrutinized. It is time for us all to demonstrate our commitment to safeguarding Canadians and for safer communities, and to quickly move this bill forward.
For those who need more convincing, I would like to reiterate that the tackling violent crime act addresses a range of serious issues that put Canadians at risk: gun crimes, impaired driving, sexual offences against children and dangerous offenders.
We know that Canadians expect their government to take action and to protect them from these crimes. To do so, we need the support of all hon. members, as well as Canadians, our partners in the provinces and the territories, and law enforcement and community groups.
Time does not permit me to address each of the equally important elements of Bill C-2. I know that other members will rise to speak to the reforms that are of most concern to them. I propose to highlight a few of the issues that have been raised repeatedly with me by my constituents, and I am sure by constituents in ridings held by all hon. members, in particular, about impaired driving, the age of consent and dangerous offenders.
Alcohol and drug impaired driving have devastating effects for victims, for families and for communities. Impaired drivers are responsible for thousands of fatalities and injuries each year, not to mention billions of dollars in property damage.
Once the tackling violent crime act is the law, impaired drivers will face tough punishment, no matter which intoxicant they choose, and police and prosecutors will have the tools that they need to deal with these offences.
Although drug impaired driving has always been a crime, until recently, police have not had the same tools available to stop those who drive while impaired by drugs that they have to address alcohol impaired driving. Under this bill, they will.
The tackling violent crime act strengthens the ability of police, prosecutors and the courts to investigate, prosecute and sentence those who endanger the safety of other Canadians through alcohol or drug impaired driving. I know that all hon. members recognize the pressing need to ensure the safety of our streets, highways, communities and our schools. By giving police the tools they need to combat impaired driving, we are doing that.
These reforms were applauded by the stakeholders and supported in the House of Commons. I am sure every member of Parliament in the House has received correspondence urging them to support the bill. There should be no impediments to making progress on this part of the tackling violent crime act.
The act also reintroduces the reforms to raise the age at which young people can consent to sexual activity from 14 to 16 years of age. The bill takes away the ability, and let us be clear on what the bill does, of adult sexual predators to rely on claims that their young victims consented.
Again, these reforms were welcomed by child advocates and supported in the House as part of former Bill C-22, so there is no need for further debate. We can move ahead.
It is worth spending a few moments to focus on the dangerous and high risk offender provisions of former Bill C-27. Some of these provisions have been modified and, therefore, hon. members may want to scrutinize these aspects more than the other reforms included in the tackling violent crime act.
The dangerous offender reforms in Bill C-2 respond to the concerns highlighted in the debates and before the justice committee, and by provincial attorneys general. I am sure that all hon. members will agree that these modifications are welcomed.
As members will recall, former Bill C-27 was tabled in the House last October. That bill included dramatic enhancements to the sentencing and management of the very worst of the worst, those offenders who repeatedly commit violent and sexual crimes and who require special attention, because it has become clear that the regular criminal sentencing regime simply cannot effectively manage the small but violent and dangerous group of offenders.
The tackling violent crime act includes all of the original amendments to the Criminal Code from the former Bill C-27, as well as two important changes which will go further in protecting Canadians from dangerous offenders.
First, let me provide an overview of the provisions brought forward into the House under Bill C-27. It includes the requirement in dangerous offender hearings that an offender be presumed to meet the dangerous offender criteria upon a third conviction for a primary designated offence. In other words, an offence that is on the list of the 12 most violent or sexual offences that typically trigger dangerous offender designations.
Second, the bill would also place a requirement on crown prosecutors to inform the court that they had fully considered whether to pursue a dangerous offender application. This is to prevent these applications from falling through the cracks. This would occur in cases where an offender had been convicted for a third time of a relatively serious sexual or violent offence.
The declaration is intended to ensure more consistent use of the dangerous offender sentence by the Crown in all jurisdictions. Although the Crown must indicate whether it has considered bringing a dangerous offender application, we are not dictating to it that it must do so. We are not attempting to arbitrarily fetter the discretion of the Crown or of the court. Rather, we are providing a way to make sure that the Crown turns its mind to the issue of a dangerous offender application.
Third, Bill C-2 would also bring forward the very significant reforms to the section 810.1 and 810.2 peace bond provisions that enable any person to apply to a court to ask for stringent conditions to be imposed against individuals who are felt to pose a threat of sexual or violent offending in the community.
We have all heard the horror stories from one end of the country to the other of someone who is known to be a threat to commit a sexual or violent offence against an innocent member of the community. There is often great frustration among Canadians at the perceived inability for government, for officials, for police, to act to protect the community from a subsequent violent or sexual offence.
Specifically, we are doubling the duration of peace bonds from one year to two years. We are also providing specific authority for the court to impose conditions regarding curfews, electronic monitoring, treatment requirements and other prohibitions as well as making it very clear that the court may impose any conditions it feels are necessary to ensure public safety.
Since the tabling of the former Bill C-27 last October, provincial attorneys general have raised concerns about violent offenders who are found to be dangerous offenders, but are not receiving indeterminate sentences. This is due to a finding that they could be managed under the long term offender designation.
The long term offender sentencing option currently in the Criminal Code allows a court to sentence an individual to a regular sentence of imprisonment, but add up to 10 years of intensive community supervision to the sentence.
Based on the interpretation of the lower courts of the 2003 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Johnson, many individuals who fully meet the designation of a dangerous offender have nonetheless been given long term offender designation instead. The Crown has been unable to convince the sentencing court that the offenders could not be managed under the less severe sentence option.
The big concern is that some of these individuals may not in fact be suitable for community supervision sentences. Yet, until they commit another violent sentence, their status as a dangerous offender cannot be reviewed by a court. I should mention, and it should be obvious, until they commit another violent offence, then it is too late for the community, for innocent victims and for families.
Given the concerns expressed since former Bill C-27 was tabled, the government has been examining the scope of this problem and developing potential solutions. It is clear that a large proportion of the individuals who meet the dangerous offender criteria, but have been given a less severe sentence, have demonstrated that they simply refuse to cooperate. The majority eventually breach one or more of the conditions of their long term supervision order. This is a clear indicator that the original sentence was based on a flawed presumption that the offender was manageable. As such, there is a real need to revisit the original sentence in order to stop the reoffending right then and there before another tragedy occurs.
The tackling violent crime act addresses this problem and includes new provisions that were not included in the former bill.
First, the tackling violent crime act makes it clear that from now on if offenders meet the dangerous offender criteria, they will always be designated as a dangerous offender first, and that designation is for life. The court must then determine the appropriate sentence, either an indeterminate sentence or a determinate sentence, with or without the long term offender supervision order. Critical to this scheme is that from now on the court must impose an indeterminate sentence unless it is satisfied that the offenders can be managed under a less severe sentence.
Second, in cases where dangerous offenders are able to satisfy the court that they can be managed under the lesser sentence and are subsequently charged and convicted with a breach of a long term supervision order, they can be brought back to the court for a new sentencing hearing. At the new hearing, dangerous offenders will have to satisfy the court once again that they can still be managed under the lesser sentence. If not, the indeterminate sentence must be imposed.
The government believes that the impact of these new reforms will be significant. Because of the clarification to the sentencing provisions, fewer offenders will escape the dangerous offender designation. In addition, for the few offenders who are declared to be dangerous offenders, but given a long term offender sentence, they will know that if they do not abide by the term of their supervision orders once released, they will be returned to court for a new sentencing hearing and an indeterminate sentence will be the likely outcome.
It will not take a second sexual assault or a second violent offence to bring the offender back for a new dangerous offender sentence. This new provision would be available, for example, even if the violation were simply that the offender failed to return to his residence before curfew or consumed alcohol or drugs in violation of a long term offender supervision order.
Our government remains committed to ensuring that all Canadians live in safe and secure communities. The tackling violent crime act will protect Canadians. It is fulfilling our commitments to Canadians. The government is committed to taking action, acting on behalf of the safety of all Canadians. I urge all members to support the tackling violent crime act.